ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Power bills can drain a bank account, but imagine a bill that is just as expensive as the rent or a mortgage payment. That is the case for some residents in Rocky Mount.
As electric bills soar to higher than $800 for some residents, utility representatives met with city leaders Wednesday to explain the sudden spike.
"Increase in fuel costs, increase in operation costs, and we're spending more money to comply with the North Carolina's Clean Air Act which will provide cleaner air," energy expert Jesse Tilton said.
The state Legislature passed tougher environmental regulations than the federal government. However, that only explains long-term rate hikes.
People like Sharon Hargrove are wondering what happened four months ago.
"We don't know what's going on. All we know is our rates doubled, tripled, and they can't explain why," she said.
Like many, Hargrove is being forced to choose whether to heat her home or feed her family.
"I go three or four nights without turning the heat on because I can't afford it," she said.
City leaders say this year's cold winter and poor housing are to blame for the recent rate jumps.
"The housing some of these folks live in is substandard and not energy efficient. So when the usage goes up, the rates go up commensurately," Rocky Mount City Councilman Reuben Blackwell said.
While many residents struggle to pay their utility bills, the situation is not going to improve any time soon. Energy experts predict another rate increase next year.
Rocky Mount city leaders say they will consider helping people pay for home improvements to make their homes more energy efficient.